GREENVILLE — While the news of Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria closing might seem sudden, owner Josh Beeby had been wrestling with the decision for at least four months.
The owner finally made the call as the confluence of many factors have come to a head and have brought him and Barley's to a point of diminishing returns.
On March 19, Beeby posted on social media that a "decimated workforce and an uphill battle to rebuild" in the three years since COVID-19 changed the restaurant industry has forced him to close Barley’s.
The last day of service is April 1, he said, with a goodbye party planned for two weeks later.
In an interview with The Post and Courier the day after his social media announcement, Beeby explained why he came to the difficult decision. And it stems from the pandemic's seemingly irrevocable impact on restaurants and the toll it's taken to keep his viable.
“It’s difficult for me to even comment about a lot of this stuff, because I don’t know if it’s just us,” Beeby said in the interview. “But what I do know is something never came back, and it’s been difficult. And honestly, my managers and myself just don’t have the energy to do it anymore.”
Beeby is among hundreds of thousands of restaurant owners who made it through the challenges of the pandemic only to find a oftentimes impossible situation on the other side.
They survived shutdowns and masking regulations and distancing requirements, outdoor eating only, takeout only, and now find rising costs, continued staffing challenges and a fickle customer base.
Barley’s opened in downtown Greenville at the corner of East Washington and Laurens street in 1996.
Beeby joined the restaurant as general manager in 2001, and when he took over ownership in 2003, he created a restaurant that had a neighborhood feel.
Barley’s was known for its pizza, but under Beeby’s direction, it added a dimension new at the time in Greenville: a quality destination for fine craft beer.
Barley’s helped push for changes in regulations to allow higher ABV levels, which helped pave the way for allowing the creation of more-diverse beers. Barley’s was often one of the first places to get new beers and would hold brewery release events regularly.
More recently, when Athens, Ga., brewery Creature Comforts began distributing in Greenville, Barley’s was one of two places that got the brewery’s popular brews first.
“I told my staff last week, it’s an interesting conundrum, and it’s almost a huge pat on the back for ourselves, when you create something so cool that it ends up outgrowing you and eating you from the inside out,” Beeby said. “I guess you can say that’s something to be proud of.”
In April 2011 Beeby opened The Trappe Door, a Belgian-themed restaurant underneath Barley's, which at the time as a pizza pub continued to thrive. The more gastronomically interesting menu and high-gravity Belgian beer selection at the Trappe Door drew a separate crowd and proved Beeby and his team’s versatility and skill.
Nothing the same after the pandemic
Three years ago this month, the government shut down in-person dining in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a move that proved to be the death knell for restaurants across the country.
Over the next year, federal funding under the CARES Act helped prop up restaurants, but Beeby said things never quite righted themselves, particularly when it came to staffing.
At Trappe Door, nearly all staff returned, and sales at that restaurant have been on the rise. At Barley’s, staff has ebbed and flowed, and sales have dipped year over year.
Costs have continued to rise, he said. Last year, Trappe Door had its best year of sales ever, but the funds went mostly to keeping Barley’s afloat, Beeby said.
When Barley’s closed during the pandemic shutdown, the staff found themselves without jobs. Many never came back when restaurants were allowed to return to normal service. Staffing the restaurant has been unpredictable ever since.
Another challenge, though not just for him, he said, has been keeping up with increased payroll costs (cooks make $17-$20 at Barley’s now versus the $14-$17 they did before) and keeping staff in place.
In most cases, Beeby said, the staff he sees coming through the kitchen at Barley's have little-to-no restaurant experience, which has forced him to work as a cook or server most days for the past eight months.
In making the decision to close Barley’s, Beeby is saddened, but he admits there is also a feeling of relief.
Relief to be out from under the pressures of keeping the restaurant afloat, out from under the worries of whether staff will show up for work and out from under the frustration that Barley’s just isn’t the same place it was.
While it was an easy business decision, it wasn't easy emotionally.
"That restaurant has been a part of people’s lives for so long," he said. "People have met their spouses there, have named their dogs after it. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest burdens to bear. You’re taking away something that is so important to so many people’s lives.”
Barley’s will continue to serve through April 1.
Plans call for holding a goodbye party April 15 with set ticket prices that include beer and live music. For more, follow Barley’s on social media and visit https://barleysgville.com